MANILA, Philippines – Before Islamist extremists started attacking Marawi last month, Iligan residents had received information that Maute-led forces were also allegedly planning to bomb their city.
“One month before mangyari ang Marawi siege, nakatanggap na sila ng info na dito sa Iligan…ay mag-conduct sila ng bombing…[One month before the Mariwi siege took place, they already received information that extremists would conduct bombings here in Iligan],” Iligan Mayor Celso Regencio told reporters on Friday, June 16.
On Thursday, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the military was verifying reports that extremists had already penetrated Iligan, which is next to Marawi and where thousands of residents of the war-torn Lanao del Sur capital had evacuated.
He said local government units (LGU) were fearing that terrorists had already reached Iligan by mingling with evacuees from Marawi.
On Friday, the military said it was possible that members of the extremist group had already entered Iligan and Cagayan de Oro City.
Padilla said members of the Maute Group could have taken advantage of the rescue operations and posed as evacuees to be able to escape from Marawi.
But Padila said the Maute-led forces’ “capabilities have been significantly degraded” and thus they could no longer mount an attack in other areas in Mindanao similar to what they did in Marawi.
“So any kind of action of that extent will not happen in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro. And we are taking up proactive measures to ensure that even an attempt to sow some confusion or sow terror in these areas by small actions will be prevented,” he said, during the Mindanao Hour press briefing in Malacañang.
The city celebrated Araw ng Iligan on Friday but the Philippine flag was flown at half-mast at the city hall to honor soldiers and grieve for the civilians who were slain in the government troop’s clashes with terrorists led by Maute brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah and senior Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, said to be the designated ISIS emir in Southeast Asia.
The clashes, now on its 25th day, had left 202 extremists, 58 soldiers and policemen, and 26 civilians dead. The Maute attack had also displaced more than 200,000 Marawi residents.
In his speech during the event in Iligan, Regencio denounced the Maute militants’ twisted views, including their belief that if they kill or die fighting Christian infidels, they would go straight to heaven where 12 virgins await them.
“Nananalangin sila, pag nakapatay sila, diretso daw sila sa langit.. sa mga tunay na angel na nag-aantay sa kanila.. Labing dalawang birhen…na hindi ko alam saan nakuha,” said the Iligan mayor.
Regencio urged residents to be courageous and fight those who would attack Iligan.
“Lalaban tayo kasi kung tayo ay aalis tsaka tatakbo, ang kalaban natin ay tatlo — agahan, tanghalian, at hapunan.. gutom [We will fight because if we flee, we would have another enemy — breakfast, lunch, and dinner or hunger.]
“Samantala, kung tayo ay lalaban..sa isang grupo ng lawless elements, isang pasada lang ‘yan… [But if we fight against a group of lawless elements, it would just be a one-time battle],” he added.
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